Children's Book Reviews

The Internet Writing Journal, August 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Scholastic, July, 2005
Hardcover, 652 pages
ISBN: 0439784549
Ages 12 and up
Ordering information: |

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling The sixth installment of the adventures of Harry Potter opens with one of the funniest scenes in the series so far (a scene which Rowling has said she wrote years ago, but which only now seemed to work as the opener). The current Prime Minister of England (and indeed, one does immediately picture the much put-upon Tony Blair) is having a terrible week. The opposition is blaming him for various natural disasters and his policies are under attack. To make things worse, he is waiting for a phone call from "the president of a distant land" and wondering "when the wretched man would call." But these ruminations are interrupted by a portrait of a "froglike little man wearing a long silver wig who was depicted in a small, dirty oil painting in the far corner of the room." The painting addresses him as the Prime Minister of the Muggles and insists that the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge must speak to him at once. Whereupon readers are entertained with a very funny history of how exactly the wizarding world interacts with the government of the Muggle world -- the secret being passed down from Prime Minister to Prime Minister -- over time.

The news that en entire magical world exists right beside ours is enough to turn a Prime Minister (or a President's ) hair gray shortly after being sworn in. The purpose of the visit is to inform the Muggles that the war in the wizarding well is spilling over into the muggle world. The Death Eaters who follow Lord Voldemort are escalating the violence against wizards and muggles alike, and have threatened the Ministry of Magic and the wizards who are loyal to Dumbledore (the newly reinstated Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot) with more muggle deaths.

Because of the war, the very future of Hogwarts is in question, as Harry Potter sets out for his new school term. The older students start to realize that the results of their O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Level) tests will likely determine their future places in the wizarding world. Although usually brilliant at wizarding, Harry has always been dismal at Potions, but when he receives the used textbook of the Half-Blood Prince, suddenly he's at the top of the Potions class. But dangerous Potions are only part of what awaits Harry this term: terrorism hits Hogwarts as the Death Eaters try to take out the Chosen One, who they believe is the chief threat to Lord Voldemort. Harry will take private lessons from Dumbledore to prepare him for his ultimate fight with evil. He will go on a dangerous and fascinating mission with Dumbledore to retrieve an object of great value to Voldemort, and, through the use of Dumbledore's amazing Pensieve, will also travel into past memories as they try to piece together the past history of Tom Riddle, the student who reinvented himself as the powerful "One Who Must Not Be Named." In addition the growing danger, Harry and his friends are growing up and romance is in the air at Hogwarts. The 16 year-old Harry is starting to realize the price he is going to pay for his powers and his status as The Chosen One. A beloved figure dies in front of his very eyes while he is powerless to help, and the attacks by Voldemort's minions grow more fierce and more terrifying.

Rowling brilliantly weaves together the myriad threads and subplots from the first five books, and sets the stage for the seventh and final book in the series. Essentially a coming of age story, it is also a detective novel, a boarding school adventure and a brilliantly-executed fantasy tale. Rowling never seems to run out of ideas: the book simply overflows with clever dialogue, wit, humor and suspense. It's best to ignore all the hype and to just concentrate on what these books really are: fascinating stories with engaging and believable characters who just happen to be wizards. Rowling has accomplished something unique: she has created a classic piece of children's literature which is astoundingly popular during her own lifetime.

--Claire E. White

Across the Wall by Garth Nix

Eos, August, 2005
Hardcover, 305 pages
ISBN: 0060747137
Ages Young Adult
Ordering information: |

Across the Wall
by Garth Nix This delightful short story collection from Australian children's author Garth Nix begins with a meaty novella entitled "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case," which picks up right after the events in the Abhorsen, the third book in the Abhorsen trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen). Nicholas Sayre barely made out of the Old Kingdom alive, but now that's he's back in Ancelstierre, south of the Wall which keeps the Charter Magic at bay, all he wants is to go back to the Old Kingdom. As a wealthy son of an important father, Nicholas is invited to a house party, which is a cover for a secret experiment run in the basement. Going undercover for his father, Nicholas finds that the scientists are keeping a dormant powerful Free Magic creature prisoner. When the creature escapes, Nicholas must call upon every bit of his ingenuity and brains to save those in its rampaging path back to the Old Kingdom. The story is fast-moving and full of suspense and atmosphere. The only disappointment here is that the story doesn't continue on for the rest of the book.

The rest of the stories are all introduced by the author with interesting little notes and explanations. "Hansel's Eyes" is an edge-of-your seat urban retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story in which a witch uses computer games and junk food to lure unwary children into her story, and which will linger in the reader's mind long after the story is over. The other stories vary in style and length -- from differing twists on the Merlin legend to a moving story of children and war, to the oldest story in the lot, a very funny satire of the "chose your own adventure" games called "Down to the Scrum Quarter." Nix is one of the best fantasy writers working today, and this collection is a must-have for fans.

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